Saturday, October 31, 2009

Taking Notes to save Money

“Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping.” - Bo Derek (American Actress, b.1956) has several ideas for saving money by having a notebook on hand. The article author has in mind a paper pad and pen but hey, this is the 21st century.
Many of the ideas will work on your blackberry or PDA or cell phone for taking notes.

1. Write down sale prices and prices at warehouse clubs. Sometimes you see a sale but are not convinced that it’s the best price around. Write down the price and place and compare it afterwards to other stores.

2. This idea also works great for comparing stores. Make your own list of essential items and add the prices at store. Who sells the cheapest bread? The least expensive milk? Whose price is always highest?

3. Keep an ongoing grocery list. When things run out, update your list. When purchased, check them off.
This also applies to making an errand list.

4. When a friend drops a gift hint or you spot the perfect gift – write it down! What item for whom. Then you can start looking around for the best price (see #1).

5. See something you want but don’t need? Write it down and wait 30 days. If you still want it, then buy it at the lowest price you’ve found while waiting.

6. Write down phone numbers or email of new people you meet.

7. After an accident, write down the person’s name, license plate number, drivers license number, insurance company, make of car, etc.

8. Write down recipes ideas and where you saw the recipe.

9. Keep a list of preferred brands recommended by Consumer Reports and other reviewers.

10. Write your big goals at the top of every page – e.g. loose weight, save money, and so on. This will keep them in mind.

Bottom Line

In some of the cases above, consider using your digital camera or cell phone camera to capture a price or memory. But beware! You’ll likely to make store managers nervous as you walk the aisles and take pictures.

I've read that many stores overcharge on basic foods to make up for the advertised sale prices on other items. They hate it when you price compare non-sale items and especially hate it when their non-sale prices are publicized. When a newspaper began publishing a weekly chart showing the price of milk, eggs, etc at local stores, the grocers fought back. They evicted anyone with a clipboard/etc who was writing down prices. The paper responded by giving the volunteers money to buy each item on the comparison list from each store and used the receipts to track prices.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Halloween

“A grandmother pretends she doesn't know who you are on Halloween” -Erma Bombeck

Looking back one year ago I’m surprised that I did not write a post on Halloween safety. Well here’s my chance to correct that mistake.

  • Choose costumes that allow kids to move and see clearly.
  • Watch out for sheets or long cloaks that might result in trips and falls. Try on costumes before Halloween to allow time for altering.
  • Flame-resistant does not mean fireproof. Keep trick-or-treaters away from flames.
  • Make sure your Halloween costume is colorfast so the color doesn't run onto your other clothes if it rains.
  • Wear comfortable, practical shoes with shoelaces double tied to prevent tripping.
  • Make-up should be hypoallergenic and non-toxic.
  • Any weapons wielded should be obviously fake and not cause injury. Kids WILL play with swords. Don’t even think of dressing like a gang member and carrying a realistic looking gun or knife.
  • Add reflective tape to a costume or candy bag so motorists can see you clearly. A flashlight or glow stick is also a good idea.
  • Designate a route before your kids begin trick-or-treating, and make sure they stick to it.
  • Don’t allow short-cuts through dark alleys, parking lots, or other areas out of sight.
  • Plan the trick-or-treat route involving only known homes and NEVER trick-or-treat alone.
  • Carry a cell phone so you can call for help.
  • Never enter a house to get candy. Don't approach unfamiliar pets and animals.
  • Follow pedestrian safety rules (use crosswalks, obey traffic lights, don’t talk to strangers or get into their car, etc.) Don't trample through flower beds and gardens.
  • Kids should not sample the candy until an adult has inspected it. Toss out unwrapped goodies. When back at home offer a scary dinner or healthy snacks to discourage an orgy of candy eating. Ration the treats to ward off bellyaches and future cavities.
  • Keep your pets locked up and away from the front door on Halloween. Do not give candy to pets; chocolate can make dogs sick.
  • If you are handing out candy, make sure the porch is well lit without any tripping hazards. If you set jack-o-lanterns with candles in them, make sure that they are far enough out of the way so that kids costumes won't accidentally be set on fire. Wet leaves should be swept from sidewalks and steps.

Bottom Line

Here is an online quiz/game to help your kids learn the Halloween rules,

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Roughing It

“If you're not in New York, you're camping out.”- Thomas E. Dewey

Today I recommend an article by a former Scout, who is now the father of a Scout, and offers many suggestions for hiking gear. He also has a long section on sleeping in your car without getting caught. Perspectives on Roughing It and Covert Car Camping, by Jolly

* Buy a backpack one size smaller than what you think you need. You can pack more in than you imagine and most people pack too much.
* His #1 recommended hiking gear: a hooded rain poncho. This is followed by good hiking boots (be sure to break them in first) and a waterproof, warm hat.
* Jolly recommends Craigslist for camp gear bargains and has some suggestions for getting a great deal
* Buy a metal mess kit so you can eat and cook with it, saving pack weight

Car Sleeping:
I’ve slept in the car during a few cross county trips. I also once took a nap in the car after midnight when I was just too tired to reach the motel I had reservations with.

Many Wal-Marts allow RV’s to park overnight but not cars. Also it is illegal to spend the night at most rest stops along the interstate.

Jolly recommends parking at an apartment complex and blending in with the other cars. Be sure to park in a visitor’s spot and not a resident’s spot.

Bottom Line

Hotels are expensive. Consider camping outdoors or in your car to save money.

My wife and I have enjoyed several trips while sleeping in a tent. For us the most important thing was a comfortable bed for a good night’s sleep (followed by showers and flush toilets). While air mattresses are nice, I recall from childhood the enormous time my family spent inflating and deflating them. We found a quicker solution – a “bed” with a foundation of egg foam, real sheets, and a quilt for warmth. We would roll up the entire bed, sheets and all, and place it on the back seat of the car. To camp we move the bundle to the tent and just unroll it again. Worked great!

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knives - friend or foe?

“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” - 2 Corinthians 3:6 KJV

It’s funny how topics of interest sometimes merge. I’ve been following two stories of upright students (both scouts) suspended for having a knife at school. The first is a six-year-old who likes to eat with a folding knife-fork-spoon he got from cub scouts. The other is an Eagle Scout who kept a 2-inch knife in his locked car’s emergency kit. Both were given maximum suspension sentences under “zero-tolerance” before the media made the school boards look foolish.

Completely unrelated is my current commuting lecture CD of Eastern Religions. Did you know that Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world with 23 million adherents? Since they don’t proselytize for converts, little is know of them outside of Punjab in India. Sikhs are often confused with Hindus (because they come from India) and Muslims (because they wear turbans). The religion began in the early 1500’s when Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) could not decide whether to be Hindu or Muslim. The religion professor compared Nanak to Joseph Smith (1805–1844), the founder of the Mormon faith. Both men prayed for insight to know which of the competing faiths was “the true church”. Both received revelation that it did not yet exist, and were inspired to create a new religion. For Guru Nanak it was the revelation that "There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim" but just one God and one faith.

The religion of Sikhism evolved under ten gurus from 1538 to 1708. It was the 10th and final guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who established the rule of the “Five K’s”, five items that all baptized Sihks must wear at all times:

kēs (uncut hair which is kept covered by a turban)
kanghā (a small hair comb)
karā (an iron bracelet)
kacchā (a special undergarment)
kirpān (a small dagger)

Now at last you see how the two topics in this post cross paths. In today’s paranoid world, dagger wielding Sikhs are not tolerated. Children are banned from schools. In New York City, a compromise was reached with the Board of Education; the kirpan is allowed IF the knife is impossible to draw by being glued to the sheath. Naturally, the kirpan causes alarm at airport security checkpoints. In 2008, Sikh leaders opted out of interfaith meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in DC because security insisted they remove their kirpans before entering.

Ironically, to Sikhs the kirpan is a symbol of "Ahimsa" or non-violence. The kirpan is a tool used to prevent violence against a defenseless person when all other means to do so have failed. The kirpan also represents the power of truth to cut through untruth. It is the cutting edge of the enlightened mind.

Bottom Line

As the apostle Paul notes in 2 Corinthians 3:6, the letter of the law can be a very bad thing. Laws without common sense “killeth” freedom and personal initiative. The NY Eagle Scout mentioned above said he was amazed that school officials freaked out over a tiny knife in his car emergency kit. He pointed out that baseball bats were easily available at school and far more lethal than his small knife.

On a flight (after 9/11), my wife & I were amazed to see metal knives given to first class passengers for their meal. A pair of knitting scissors and nail clips had to be surrendered but knives were handed out. What’s the common sense in that?

Common sense says that knife paranoia is bad for preparedness. One of the best survival tools is a good knife. Use it to make kindling and strike it with flint to start a fire. It can help build a shelter, prepare food, and so on. What a shame that all persons with knives must be treated as criminals.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Fun with Dryer Lint

“She plucked from my lapel the invisible strand of lint (the universal act of woman to proclaim ownership).” - O. Henry

Dryer lint represents the life being worn from your clothes by the action and heat of the dryer. Don’t let this expensive commodity go to waste, turn lint into paper instead!

Homemade paper can be created from coffee filters, tissue, dryer lint, newspapers, junk mail, envelopes, and grocery lists. The color of ingredients will affect the color of the paper you make. Watch out for scrap paper with lots of black ink; this will turn your new paper grey. It takes 1/3 to 1/4 of a cup of paper scrap to make one sheet of paper.

Place torn scraps of paper, some dryer lint and some warm water (enough to cover) into a large pan to soak (at least one hour) until saturated and soft. This soaking breaks down long fibers and makes it easier to blend in the next step. You can try making paper with dryer lint alone but many crafters believe the resulting pulp slurry won’t have much “body”. You can add body to lint with glue as described below.

While the paper & lint are soaking prepare a screen frame. Window screens work great on a wood frame that you stable gun together. If you want sharp edges to your paper, use a screen “mold” plus a second removable frame called the “deckle” on top. Some sites suggest using just a mold with screen side down. But it’s not so easy getting the paper out of the mold safely this way.

Fill a very large pan or tub or sink with water; it must be large enough and deep enough so you can submerge your screen frame.

Scoop out one cup of slurry, put into a blender and add two cups of plain water to fill the blender. If you want to use your paper to write or paint on, add a tablespoon of white glue, cornstarch, or gelatin (dissolved in hot water), or 2 teaspoons of liquid starch. These additives, called "sizing," will make the paper less porous. At this time you can also “beautify” your paper with by color paper scraps or food dye.

Blend for a few seconds until the mixture is smooth and mushy like thin oatmeal. Pour blender contents into the tub of water. Repeat until you have several inches of pulp floating in the tub. One website recommends one blender for every two inches of water in a small tub.

Slowly lower the frame into the water at an angle with the screen on the top of the mold (and a deckle on top of that if you have one.) The goal is to get underneath the pulp and then scoop it up, enough to cover the screen. Remove the frame carefully from the tub and let the excess water drip off. If the pulp does not fully cover the screen from edge to edge or if the pulp is uneven in thickness, try gently shaking the frame to spread out the pulp. If that does not work, put the screen back into the tub and try again.

Place paper towels or cloth over the pulp on the screen. Gently turn the screen over then slowly remove the screen; leaving the pulp on the paper towels. For special effect you can cover the wet paper with sparkles, confetti, threads, seeds, small flowers or small leaves to become embedded in the paper.

Now cover the wet paper with more towels or cloth. If you’re making multiple sheets of paper you can stack them up – towel, wet paper, towel, wet paper, towel, etc. Next press the water out of your paper stack with either a rolling pin or some weight (like a stack of books on top for several hours).

When pressing is done, carefully remove the new paper from the towels and allow them to dry completely (pinned to a laundry line for example). If pages are allowed to dry flat, turn them over occasionally to avoid sticking.

Bottom Line

For more fun things to do with dryer lint (like fire starters and clay), check out

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Winterize your House

“Winter is the season in which people try to keep the house as warm as it was in the summer, when they complained about the heat” - anon had published Your Fall Home-Maintenance To-Do List with 9 ways to winterize your home:

9. Have your lawn-irrigation system professionally drained.

8. Trim landscaping.

7. Turn off exterior faucets.

6. Add extensions to downspouts so water runs at least 3 to 4 feet away from the foundation.

5. Clean the gutters.

4. Caulk around windows and doors.

3. Make necessary roof repairs.

2. Buy a programmable thermostat.

1. Tune up your heating system.

Bottom Line

Forecasters are predicting an extra cold winter in the North East due to a weak El Nino. Prepare now!

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Friday, October 23, 2009

More Misleading Food Labels

More die in the United States of too much food than of too little. ~John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society

Here are more misleading food label tricks from the Women’s Health magazine article, the “18 Worst Packaged Food Lies”.

Some products use sneaky serving sizes so they can boast, “100 calories a serving!” But check the number of servings listed on your bag of chips, candy bar, etc. Is it 2.6 or any number other than one? Who doesn’t eat the entire bag, or bar, or “individual” frozen pizza? On many cooked foods the official serving size is very small, usually a 1/2 cup for mashed potatoes, stuffing, pasta and similar carbs. I typically eat two or more of these “servings”. My wife & I laugh at processed foods that say "feeds 6-8".

Watch out for fake foods. When something is "strawberry-flavored" or “cheese-flavored” the flavoring will be 100% artificial; i.e. no strawberries or cheese. I once saw a product labeled “authentic pancake syrup”. What does this mean? It was hoping you would think “100% maple syrup” but that product contained no maple and was all sugar. Another product labels itself as “original pizza” and shows a lovely crust covered in cheese and sauce. But there is a reason this product is “original pizza” instead of “cheese pizza”; the “cheese” is imitation mozzarella made from soybean oil. It contains no cheese at all.

“Zero gram tans fats” does not mean trans fats free! Manufactures are allowed to round off so anything less than 0.50 grams is officially zero. To check if a product has trans fats, look in the ingredient list for the words "partially hydrogenated", "shortening", or "interesterified".

The fat fake-out will claim "25% less fat than regular product X". But since fat gives food flavor and texture, something is needed as a substitute. In some cases fat is replaced with maltodextrin, a cheap, carbohydrate filler with empty carbs. Sometimes extra sugar and/or salt supplies the missing flavor. Check the calorie count. You may find that the substitutes are no healthier than the original fat.

"Lightly sweetened" is another unregulated phrase. The Kellogg's Smart Start Cereal is "lightly sweetened" with more added sugars per serving than Froot Loops, Frosted Flakes, or Apple Jacks.

Organic junk food: organic originally meant produce grown without “non-organic” pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. It was sold as healthier and so the word organic became equated with healthy. But this is carried to extremes with Kraft Original Macaroni and Cheese labeled as "USDA organic". Does it matter that the refined flour and powdered cheese is “organic” and then mixed with chemicals in the box? For more information, see The Truth about Organic Food.

Bottom Line

"Food companies are only as honest as the labeling laws force them to be," says a University student in the Chicago Business story, What is 'Real Kraft Cheese'? It notes that “real Kraft cheese” is processed cheese (made in a laboratory, not on a dairy farm) from natural and synthetic ingredients.

The story mentions several food labeling lawsuits:

A woman in California sued Kraft for a “guacamole dip” that contained less than 2% avocado. Kraft’s response? Change the label to a “guacamole flavor dip”.

Quaker’s Strawberries & Cream and their Peaches & Cream Oatmeal contain neither strawberries nor peaches but instead dried apples and artificial color. When challenged in 2001, the labels were changed to indicate artificial ingredients (but the false names remained.)

Ben & Jerry’s had to drop their “all natural” claim when it was discovered that some ice cream contained hydrogenated oil and artificial flavors.

Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles mix contains no real blueberries. In 2005 the company agreed to mention “imitation blueberries” on the front of the package.

In General Mills’ Betty Crocker Stir ‘n Bake Carrot Cake Mix, the carrot powder appears last on the ingredient list AFTER salt, cinnamon, red dye and other additives. The company changed the package to say, “with carrot flavored pieces.”

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Misleading Food Labels

Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork. ~English Proverb

Women’s Health magazine has an excellent article on the “18 Worst Packaged Food Lies”.
Always look at what a product has in it, not what it’s “free” of. For example, “Fat Free” does not mean “non-fattening”. Most "fat free" foods are empty-calorie junk foods with 100 percent sugar and processed carbs. In the cartoon above from, a product advertises itself as “asbestos free”. Hopefully ALL products are asbestos free so this is just an empty claim to boost sales.

"100% juice pomegranate blueberry” should be read as 100% juice containing some pomegranate and blueberry. The majority of the “juice” is made from apples or white grapes and is little different from sugar water. (See below) In my family we buy 100% juice made from one fruit (i.e. pure pomegranate) and then dilute it 50/50 with Diet 7-Up or similar low calorie mixer. When I was on a diet in college, one of the restricted foods was fruit juice. Whole fruit is healthy and you get pulp and fiber eating apples, etc. But fruit juice packs a lot of calories, can be consumed in bulk, and does not fill you up. Drink it in moderation.

Beware of any product that calls itself a “food” or “drink”. These are words of last resort to hide the fact that the product as little real content and is mostly chemicals. Beverages labeled "juice drink" or "juice cocktail" are primarily sugar water (corn syrup, etc) with a little juice (18%) for flavor. Yoo-Hoo "Chocolate drink" looks like chocolate milk but is really water, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated soybean oil. Nonfat dry milk is listed as the ninth ingredient. A “cheese food” has very little cheese in it. Likewise Macaroni & Cheese “made with real cheese” must contain some cheese but there is no law saying how much or how little. Most of the cheese flavor and texture will be artificial.

The phrase "All Natural Flavors" is not defined by the FDA and means very little. High-fructose corn syrup is a “natural” super sweetener made from corn via some serious chemistry and lab processes. Just because a chemical is extracted from a “natural” source does not make it safe or desirable.

Another unregulated term is “Healthy”. The product line "Healthy Choice" did not pass any tests to earn this title. There is no guarantee that a "Healthy Choice" meal is actually healthy.

Bottom Line

Never trust the product labeling on food; it’s designed to sell you. Look instead at the ingredients list and the calories/fat/etc. The ingredients are listed in order of most content to least and will give you a clue as to whether you are buying “food” or chemicals. But even the ingredient list can be deceiving. Sometimes an ingredient like sugar is broken up into different types to avoid being number 1 on the list. Be worried when you see corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup and glucose and other sugars all listed separately.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Canker Sores

“And he goes through life, his mouth open, and his mind closed”- Oscar Wilde

Canker sores are shallow, painful sores in the soft parts of the mouth like the inside of the cheek and tongue. About one in five people get recurrent canker sores, scientifically known as "recurrent minor aphthous ulcers". They are usually red but may have a white coating over them. They are different from cold sores which form on the lips or outside the mouth. Although the true cause of canker sores is unknown, they are NOT caused by the herpes simplex virus and (unlike cold sores) are not contagious.

Canker sores are thought to form when, for unexplained reasons, a person's immune system activates an attack against a chemical or infection inside the mouth. The carnage created by the attack results in the formation of mouth ulcers.

Possible Causes (source:

  • Trauma to oral tissues like a small cut from a sharp edged tooth or piece of food.
  • Nutritional deficiencies of B1, B2, B6, B12, C, zinc, folic acid, iron, selenium, calcium
  • Diet: Allergies and sensitivities
    · Cereal grains: buckwheat, wheat, oats, rye, barley, the gluten protein found in grains
    · Fruits and vegetables: lemon, orange, pineapple, apple, figs, tomato, strawberry
    · Dairy: milk, cheeses
    · Other foods: nuts, chocolate, shellfish, soy, vinegar, French mustard
    · Food Additives: cinnamonaldehyde (a flavoring agent), benzoic acid (a preservative)
    · Other substances: toothpaste, mint, gum, medication
  • Infectious agents (both bacterial and viral)
  • Emotional & Psychic stress
  • Hormonal changes

There is a long list of treatments and tips recommended by individuals (not doctors) at and Suggestions include medications like Oracort (prescription), Oragel, Cloraseptic, and Anbesol, and home remedies like acidophilus, salt, baking soda, brown sugar, hydrogen peroxide, spirit of camphor, Vegemite, Alumn paste, and Listerine. Make sure you have a canker sore and not a cold sore (herpes) before trying the home remedies. Otherwise, the above treatments will be very painful, and may make your cold sore worse.

Cold sores result from the herpes virus and have the following symptoms:
· The first signs are fever, irritability, headache, and pain upon swallowing.
· A day or so after the infection the mouth becomes painful and the gums become intensely inflamed.
· Usually by day three a number of tiny blisters form throughout the mouth. These blisters soon rupture resulting in gray colored ulcers.
· The cold sore ulcers can be very painful but usually heal within 10 to 14 days.

Bottom Line

Canker sores can usually be expected to heal within 4 to 14 days. Usually this healing is uneventful and with no residual scarring.

The causes for Canker sores may be genetically based and differ for each person. In my family, eating too many nuts (or nuts too frequently) is the leading cause of canker sores.

When should I call my family doctor about canker sores?
If your canker sores are large, last longer than 2 weeks or are so sore that you can't eat or drink, you should make an appointment to see your doctor. You should make an appointment with your doctor, too, if you also have a fever or feel sick when you have canker sores. Tell your doctor if you have canker sores more than 3 times a year.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Government Spending (2)

"America is a land of taxation that was founded to avoid taxation"~Laurence J. Peter

To anyone who thinks higher taxes will fix government spending deficits (for example politicians in California) consider this graphic:

Since 1970, spending by the Federal government has risen seven times faster than the average household income. This is just not responsible and not sustainable.

Bottom Line

The TaxProf Blog also highlights another scary statistic of federal taxes. 53% of the households carry the entire tax burden, nearly half get a free ride:

47% Will Pay $0 Income Tax in 2009

Is there a solution? I would suggest eliminating the complex income tax with all its loopholes and impose a federal shopping tax for everyone. Add 5% to the cost of everything. Those who have little and buy little will not pay much tax. Those who have much and spend much will pay a lot. Everyone will pay a fair share. And think of the money saved when the IRS department is eliminated.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

How to Identify Good Furniture

“An educated consumer is our best customer”® -

Author Karawynn Long has written an excellent article for about judging the quality of furniture. Now there is nothing wrong with buying cheap. As a college student I used milk crates and other inexpensive items for furniture. Today my wife & I enjoy strolling through IKEA and sometimes find something we can use – like a large shelving unit for our library. But cheap has a hidden price. The item may warp if it becomes wet, it may warp from use, and it’s not likely to last long enough to be passed on to your children.

If you want quality furniture that your great-grandchild will someday have appraised on Antiques Roadshow, then you need to spend real money. And if you’re going to spend serious money, you don’t want to be ripped off with shoddy craftsmanship.

For upholstered furniture, like a couch, check out the article January 2008, “You can size up upholstered furniture like an expert” by Consumers Reports.

Here is a Basic Furniture Shopping Checklist created by Karawynn Long for her article Furniture Shopping Secrets: How to Tell Superior from Shoddy.

-- Wood --
good: solid wood or 9+ layer plywood
bad: thin plywood, particleboard, pressboard, fiberboard
bad: knots, cracks
bad: soft, easily-scratched surfaces

-- Joints --
great: dovetail, mortise & tenon
good: reinforcing corner blocks
good: dowels, screws
bad: staples, nails, visible glue

-- Drawers --
great: dust panels, floating bottoms
good: metal glide-rails, stops
bad: wood-on-wood sliding

-- Frame --
good: even, level with floor
bad: twists, creaks, wobbles

-- Springs --
great: hand-tied coil springs
good: close together, even resistance
bad: any springs more than a few inches apart

-- Cushions --
good: firm foam wrapped in padding
good: protective inner cover
good: reversible cushions
bad: bare foam
bad: loose fill without internal sectioning

-- Upholstery --
good: aligned patterns
good: skirts with lining or weights
bad: skimpy padding along arms and back

Bottom Line

"Caveat emptor" - Latin for let the buyer beware
“Won't Get Fooled Again” – The Who

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Ways to Keep Warm

"May you have warm words on a cold evening, a full moon on a dark night and a smooth road all the way to your door.” - Irish Blessing
I can cope with most things during a power outage. I'll light some candles (protected by hurricane lanterns or similar), eat cold tuna fish or peanut butter on crackers, and drink the bottled water in my basement. But one item has me worried. If it's winter and freezing cold outside, how will I stay warm? Here are a few ideas I've found.
  1. If you wear your warmest coat/gloves/hat, your odds of freezing to death are quite low. You are more likely to die by fire, lack of oxygen or carbon monoxide poisoning trying to get warm with the wrong methods.
  2. No coat? Then wear multiple layers of clothing. Stuff your outer layer with crumpled up newspaper.
  3. Still cold? Don't try to warm the entire house. Heat just a single room on the "warm" side of the house, opposite the blowing wind. Don't pick a room with lots of single pane glass or thin walls. Close doors or hang drapes to isolate the room.
  4. Still not warm enough? Pile all your blankets on the biggest bed and put the whole family underneath.
  5. If you live on a farm, you can emulate the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and sleep near the animals. The barn may be the warmest place around.

Bottom Line

Safety First! Do not burn anything larger than a candle inside the house without proper ventilation. It seems silly to open windows when you're trying to get warm but see item #1. And don't forget you need to open TWO windows (one inch gap) on opposite sides of the room for air to circulate.

  • Never burn BBQ charcoal inside the house. This is deadly.- If you have a propane grill instead, don't get clever and try to hook this up to your stove or natural gas heat. Special regulator valves are required for this to safely work.
  • If you have a fireplace or are using a space heater, take turns staying awake so one person is always watching and maintaining the fire. Don't let it burn unattended while everyone sleeps. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby. Also recommended is a battery powered Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector.
  • For your fireplace, you can make emergency logs from rolled up newspapers and magazines.
  • Do not put a space heater on carpets, rugs or uneven surfaces. Keep it at least 3 feed away from bedding, drapes, furniture or anything that could burn.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Money Talks

“But in truth, should I meet with gold or spices in great quantity, I shall remain till I collect as much as possible, and for this purpose I am proceeding solely in quest of them.” - Christopher Columbus

When I looked at a list of city foundation dates, I was surprised to see that Albany, NY predated the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth. Yet who studies the founding of Albany in American History?

The reason we are taught about Plymouth but not Albany is the different motive behind the settlements. The Pilgrims represent religious freedom (wrongly as described yesterday). Albany represents the commercial side of America; it was built as a key location for the fur trade. (The state mammal of NY is the Beaver.) While America was a land of religious freedom for some, for many more it was the land of opportunity, an “unexplored” continent of boundless natural resources.

For St. John’s, Newfoundland the resource was Cod and other fish found in abundance in the Grand Banks. The settlers of Jamestown did not find gold ore but they did “discover” gold in a new cash crop, tobacco. The first English tobacco farmer was John Rolfe, husband of Pocahontas. In New England the town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (1623) had good fishing and furs but it also had huge tracts of old growth forests which were perfect for shipbuilding. One of my colonial ancestors owned a lumber mill near Dover, New Hampshire.

The exception amongst early American cities is St Augustine, Florida; it was built for military purposes. Explorer Pedro Menendez de Aviles was commanded to destroy the French settlement of Fort Caroline, Florida, which he did, and establish a base of operations and control the region for Spain. After the destruction and massacre of Fort Caroline in 1565, the French never again tried to settle the US Atlantic coast. Instead they avoided the superior sea power of Spain and England by settling Canada, following the fur trade into the American interior, and taking possession of the Mississippi River, including the city of New Orleans.

Bottom Line

In modern times, the media and community organizers like to disparage capitalism and wealth and the earning of money. In ancient China, merchants were considered the lowest of the low, parasites that lived off of honest artists and craftsmen. Napoleon famously insulted England by calling it a “Nation of Shopkeepers”. We tend to forget the importance of commerce in history and in the founding of North America.

It was taxation on commerce that led to the creation of the United States. The state of Massachusetts, which I put down yesterday for its early puritanical religious intolerance, had by the 1700s cast off its Pilgrim shackles and became “the” colony of merchants. Boston led the way to independence as discussed in my posts on Samuel Adams and Taxation without Representation.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Me First

"Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." - President John F. Kennedy

Most of the early America settlers had one of two motives: religious freedom or profit. I’ll talk more about profits tomorrow. Today let’s look at religion in the colonies. It is quite ironic that every school child is taught the story of the Pilgrims as the shining example of a people traveling to America for religious freedom. Yes, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Plantation fled oppression and tyranny in the Old Country; but they brought new tyranny with them to the New World. Most every settlement created a charter of rules and regulations and selected or had appointed a strong leader and line of authority. This is not necessarily bad – in fact it was needed for survival. Because of the many “gentlemen” and servants at Jamestown, VA, who had never experienced harsh manual labor (and didn’t want to either), the leader John Smith had to be harsh and proclaimed the rule, if you don’t work, you don’t get fed.

But the tyranny I’m thinking of is not the leaders; it’s a closed minded people and a culture of intolerance - the hypocrisy of Pilgrims refusing to tolerate any religion but their own. They excommunicated independent thinkers and killed anyone who dared to worship differently, like Quakers or Salem “witches”. After being exiled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his views in 1644, Roger Williams moved next door and founded the “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations", a settlement for religious freedom and neutrality with all (including the Indians). The free people of Rhode Island represent the best of America and were the first to declare Independence from England and the last of the 13 colonies to sign the constitution (holding out until the Bill of Rights was promised.)

Another American pioneer of freedom for everyone was William Penn. (Recall he and his wife are 2 of only 6 persons granted Honorary American Citizenship.) He established the Colony of Pennsylvania (named by the King after William’s father, the elder Penn.) and drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement creating a political utopia guaranteeing trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections. Penn vowed that he would not exploit either the native Indians or the immigrants. He established a legal framework for an ethical society where power was derived from the people, from “open discourse”, in much the same way a Quaker Meeting was run. The new colonial government would safeguard the rights of private property and free enterprise, and impose taxes fairly. The death penalty was limited to two crimes, treason and murder, rather than the two hundred crimes under English law. But not everything was tolerated, even in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia. The laws of behavior were rather Puritanical: swearing, lying, and drunkenness were forbidden as well as “idle amusements” such as stage plays, gambling, revels, masques, cock-fighting, and bear-baiting.

Bottom Line

I suppose it is a common human failing to think “freedom for me but not for thee”. I often think back to a portion of Pier Anthony’s series, “Incarnations of Immortality”. The character, Father Time, is forced to go through a series of trials to visit Mother Nature. As a walker he’s pissed that he’s nearly run over by a bicycle and car. As a biker and driver he’s annoyed at a pedestrian who gets in his way. Mother Nature later points out that he was the walker, biker and driver interacting with himself from three different viewpoints. He wanted the right-of-way in each instance and refused to be tolerant of others.

I’m reminded of this when I am cut off by another car or get angry with someone else on the road. Should “me first” apply only to me? Can I fault another when they act just like I want to?

It’s sad that much of American history, early and modern, is driven by the “me first” or “I’m always right” attitude instead of respecting the value and worth of others like Native Americas, women, or persons of a different national origin or different skin tone. It’s incredible that the Land of Religious Freedom has oppressed Quakers, Catholics, Mormons and others for their beliefs. Have "we the people" learned from our country's past mistakes? I don't think so. Just look at the intolerance now between the liberals and the conservatives and attempts by each side to silence debate, vilify individuals, and condemn opponents. No sign of respect for different points of view.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Their houses are all built in the shape of tents, with very high chimneys.- Christopher Columbus speaking of the Indians

After the failures of the Virginia Colony at Roanoke, King James of England granted proprietary land charters in 1606 to two competing branches of the Virginia Company, the Plymouth Company (New England) and the London Company (Virginia), in the hopes of establishing a permanent settlement. Immediately, the the Plymouth Company sent the ship, Richard, to the New World but it was captured by the Spanish near Florida. In 1607 the Plymouth Company tried again with two ships and 120 colonists. Called the Popham Colony, they settled the area of Phippsburg, Maine near the mouth of the Kennebec River. They lasted one year before sailing back to England.

In 1607 the London Company founded Jamestown, the first successful English settlement on the mainland of North America. It comprised three ships after a particularly long voyage of five months duration across the Atlantic. Many in the group were gentlemen unused to work, or their manservants, equally unaccustomed to the hard labor demanded for establishing a viable colony. Two-thirds of the settlers died before ships brought supplies and experts in 1608. In the "starving time" of 1609 - 1610, only 60 of the 500 colonists survived.

Jamestown’s relationship with neighboring Indians was a strained coexistence. Initially the Indians were friendly and we get the story of Pocahontas, the introduction of crops like corn and the origin of the Thanksgiving dinner. But after 15 years of mistreatment the Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony in the Indian Massacre of 1622. The attack killed over 300 settlers, about a third of the English-speaking population.

The true miracle of Jamestown is that is survived at all. Between St. John’s in 1583 and Jamestown in 1607 there were no fewer than eighteen failed attempts at European colonization.

Despite a terrible beginning, Jamestown did survive and eventually Virgina would become the largest and most prominent of the 13 colonies; home to leading men like Washington and Jefferson. It’s also interesting to note that the territory claimed by the Virginia Colony was huge. It consisted of not just the Commonwealth of Virginia but also the entire states of West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois, most of Ohio as well as disputed claims to the lands of Michigan and Wisconsin.

Bottom Line

In modern times we take survival for granted. Family members won’t die if the crop fails. We are not sickened by drinking the local water or by mosquitoes. Infant mortality is low and Indian attacks are rare.

We also take our tools for granted. Hammers, ovens, sewing machines, etc. Imagine a Robinson Carouse existence on a desert island when you have to get by with only what you can make yourself.

It’s hard for me to say if the early settlers were brave or ignorant or a little of both. Certainly courage was needed to move to the New World and endure the trials of the sea voyage and hunger. But there was also a lot of false optimism and failure to adequately plan and failure to anticipate the difficulties of building a settlement from scratch. When the second supply ship arrived in Jamestown, the company representives expressed anger that the colonists had not found gold or other means to pay for their supplies. The leader John Smith wrote back to the London Company,

"When you send againe I entreat you rather send but thirty Carpenters, husbandmen, gardiners, fishermen, blacksmiths, masons and diggers up of trees, roots, well provided; than a thousand of such awe have [gentlemen speculators]: for except wee be able both to lodge them and feed them, the most will consume with want of necessaries before they can be made good for anything."

It was the worst of times, but after Jamestown colonizers appear to have found the secret of successful colonization through trial and error.

1607 Jamestown, Virginia
1607 Sante Fe, New Mexico
1608 Quebec City, Canada
1610 Hampton, Virginia
1610 Kecoughtan, Virginia
1610 Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, Canada
1614 Albany, New York
1620 Plymouth, Massachusetts
1623 Portsmouth, New Hampshire
and so on with dozens more settlements in the early 1600’s.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day & The New World

By prevailing over all obstacles and distractions, one may unfailingly arrive at his chosen goal or destination. - Christopher Columbus

My latest commuting book on CD is called, The Intellectual Devotional, American History. There are 365 “lessons” each about 5 minutes long. It’s a bit like having someone read a history text book aloud. Though not exciting, it overlapped nicely with a graphic novel I reread last night, Marvel’s 1602, and got me thinking about the colonization of America. Despite this being Columbus Day, I'll skip the early years and look at actual attempts to settle the New World.

The first successful English settlement of America was St. John's, Newfoundland. Tradition declares that the site earned its name when explorer John Cabot became the first European to sail into the harbour, on June 24, 1497 - the feast day of Saint John the Baptist. The location became a popular harbor with many nations for fishing the Grand Banks. It appears as São João on a Portuguese map in 1519. When the English mariner John Rut visited St. John's in 1527 he found Norman, Breton and Portuguese ships in the harbour. On August 5, 1583, Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed the area as England's first overseas colony under Royal Charter of Queen Elizabeth I. When he arrived, he found 16 English fishing ships and 20 French and Portuguese vessels already there with a small (seasonal?) settlement on the north side of the harbour. The resident population grew slowly in the 17th century.

Another early attempt at English settlement was the Virginia Colony. It began with an expedition sent by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585 to Roanoke Island, NC. But the settlement ran out of supplies and the entire population returned to England when Sir Francis Drake dropped by after attacking the Spanish at St. Augustine. In 1587 the English tried to resettle Roanoke with families. At Roanoke, Virginia Dare became the first English child born in the New World. The colony ship was sent back for supplies but became impounded in an English war with Spain. When the supply ship was allowed to return in 1590, it found that every resident had vanished and Roanoke become know as the "Lost Colony".

Bottom Line

Tomorrow I’ll continue the story of the Virginia Colony.

I should also note that other nations (particularly Spain) were also trying to colonize the New World.
1498 Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
1510 Nombre de Dios & 1519 Panama City, Panama
1511-1515 Baracoa, Santiago, and Havana in Cuba
1519 Veracruz, 1526 Acámbaro, 1531 Culiacán, 1532 Oaxaca, & others, Mexico
1521 San Juan, Puerto Rico
1524 Granada, Nicaragua
1536 San Pedro, Honduras
1541 St. John's, Canada
1558 Mérida, Venezuela
1563 Cartago, Costa Rica
1565 Saint Augustine, Florida (the oldest continuously occupied European city in the United States)

Personal Note

Columbus Day has a special, though unintended meaning for me. I'm a big fan of the number 12 and so to make the Anniversary Day easier to remember, we chose October 12 to be married. Neither my wife nor I realized that we had picked Columbus Day until:
1. My sister gave us a large book on Columbus as a wedding gift
2. Our honeymoon inn wanted to charge us more more when we arrived because it was a holiday weekend.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Oh deer!

“When I found the skull in the woods, the first thing I did was call the police. But then I got curious about it. I picked it up, and started wondering who this person was, and why he had deer horns.” - SNL comedian Jack Handy

About ten years ago as my wife & I were driving home at dusk, a deer ran out of the woods and smack into the side of our car. For a brief moment the deer stared at me with her face against
the driver side window. It was not killed and ran away. The car however was not so lucky. The side panels for the hood and door had to be replaced.

Apparently the deer problem is getting worse. Insurance agency, State Farm, reports that Deer-Vehicle Collision Frequency Jumps 18 Percent In Five Years. The number of cars on the road has grown by 7 percent over the last five years but the number of deer collisions increased over twice that. For the third year in a row, West Virginia tops list with Michigan second for deer impacts. Collisions are more frequent during the deer migration and mating season in October, November and December.

Here’s some advice from State Farm:
· Pay attention to deer crossing signs. These are placed in active deer crossing areas.
· Deer are most active between 6 and 9 p.m.
· Use high beam headlamps as much as possible at night to see deer on the edge of roadways.
· Deer generally travel in herds – if you see one, others may be nearby.
· Do not rely on car-mounted deer whistles.
· When a deer collision seems inevitable, do not lose control of your car in an attempt to prevent it.

Bottom Line

In New York and western Connecticut, deer are everywhere. I see them grazing alongside high speed roads during my daily commute. Our home is on a deer migration path. They sleep in our backyard and eat our bushes for a few days each year.

While cute, deer can be dangerous. Deer-vehicle collisions in the U.S. cause more than 150 fatalities each year. And don’t forget moose, elk, cows and other large mammals. The average property damage cost of each incident was $3,050. Here's a US state map of deer collision risk:

Don’t panic trying to escape an oncoming deer. Hitting a deer is safer than leaving your lane and hitting an oncoming vehicle or a tree.

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Thursday, October 8, 2009

When Asteroids Attack

“Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she laid an asteroid.” - Mark Twain

An article at, Asteroid attack: Putting Earth's defences to the test, describes a day-long test by the US Air Force in December of last year to test its readiness in the case of an asteroid impact. The US Air Force brought together scientists, military officers and emergency-response officials for the first time to assess the nation's ability to cope with an asteroid striking the Earth in just three days. The exercise was a wake-up call for the Air Force: there is no plan for what to do, the early-warning systems are woefully inadequate, and was no formal coordination between major parties like the Air Force, Homeland Security and NASA.

So it is not unreasonable to ask, should we panic? The answer is no. The best known impact in modern times was a comet 30 to 50 meters across that exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, in 1908, flattening trees for dozens of kilometres all around. The chance of a similar impact is about 1 in 500 each year, or a 10% chance of an impact in the next 50 years. The odds of a dinosaur killing, giant asteroid are much, much lower. But let’s assume you beat the odds and the next small comet or asteroid hits in your lifetime. Well the earth is a very big place with 70% of it covered in water. NASA used to fear that an ocean impact would create giant city-swamping tidal waves but recent research shows that the waves will lose energy before hitting land. (Unless the comet hits close to shore.)

What would an asteroid impact look like? A lot like an atom bomb. The heat of entry will cause the rock or comet to explode in a bright flash of light with a huge pressure and heat wave 30 seconds after. The only difference will be a lack of radiation. Since an asteroid and nuclear bomb are so similar, NASA warned the world when it calculated that a car sized asteroid would hit somewhere in the Middle East last year. They did not want a World War started because an Arab nation thought it had been nuked. Fortunately 2008 TC3 exploded over an unpopulated desert area of northern Sudan and never reached the ground.

Bottom Line

To its credit NASA was able to predict where and to the minute when the 2008 TC3 asteroid hit. To our shame, we had just 20 hours warning of this particular asteroid. And we were lucky to have spotted it at all. Our telescopes are blind to objects moving at us from the direction of the sun or even the moon. Two of the world's three leading asteroid detecting telescopes are based in Arizona, a region that clouds over between July and September.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Get Out Of Dodge

“The evacuation of major cities - we have a problem with that. We've never done that before.” ~ Henry Renteria, Director of the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services

About a year ago I wrote about the acronym TEOTWAWKI. Just this morning I came across another acronym G.O.O.D. that ties nicely into an article at, Asteroid attack: Putting Earth's defences to the test. GOOD stands for “Get Out Of Dodge” and refers to emergency evacuation planning. When a hurricane is bearing down or an asteroid is about to strike your town, you won’t be the only one trying to escape. I recommend the movie, Deep Impact, which has a scene near the end of a crowded highway, no one’s moving, the asteroid is coming, so naturally people start panicking and driving on the grass, getting into accidents and getting into fights. Every man for himself!

The best solution to GOOD is getting out quickly, before the rest of the public jams the roads. If your go-kits are packed and ready you can get a head start on the crowd. Do not delay. Do not think you can escape “last minute”. You might also want to fill a gas can immediately because stations along the escape routes will quickly sell out.

When evacuating millions of people, I suspect every option is a lose-lose scenario. The highways will jam. Secondary roads can become closed with a single accident. If you have an AWD vehicle you could try off-road driving but have to cope with fences, ditches, streams, etc. In all cases a GPS unit can help provide alternative routes if you get stuck.

Bottom Line

Because of the hazards of evacuation, sheltering at home is often a better choice if you’re well stocked and prepared. But sometimes (killer hurricane or asteroid) you must get out of town, no choice. What will you do?

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Five unusual items for your emergency supplies

“The easiest period in a crisis situation is actually the battle itself. The most difficult is the period of indecision -- whether to fight or run away. And the most dangerous period is the aftermath. It is then, with all his resources spent and his guard down, that an individual must watch out for dulled reactions and faulty judgment.”- Richard M. Nixon

Here’s another fun story from the October 2009 edition of Popular Mechanics.

Beyond First Aid Kits: 5 Unexpected Survival Kit Essentials

1. Beer (or other gifts)

Remember yesterday’s blog about surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Ike? A man in Galveston found that beer was great for recruiting help: “Need your neighbor to help you clear trees out of your yard? A case of Bud is a better motivator than a $20 bill when all the stores are boarded up.”
Don’t drink beer or smoke? Then stock other items to share with helpers – bottled water, chocolate, candy, diapers, etc.

2. Handheld CB Radio

CBs will work when cell phone towers are down and may reach emergency crews and tow trucks
that you need.

3. Contractor Bags

Thick, sturdy 3-mil contractor bags are tough to store sharp debris, drag heavy objects, act as water barrier for leaky structures, and serve as a poncho in a pinch.

4. Glow Bracelets

With no electricity, houses and neighborhoods are really dark at night. One Ike survivor says, “I used them [glow bracelets] to mark the location of radios, flashlights, batteries and door handles.”

5. A Good Book

Remember Daryl Jané from yesterday who was stuck in his Jeep for two weeks? He says, “It gets so boring after a while. If I’d had a book I would have been set.” I suggest keeping THE “good book”, scriptures, in your glove compartment. It never gets boring.

Bottom Line

The items above all deal with surviving the aftermath. Barter for cleanup, means to call for help, tools for cleanup, tools for dealing with the dark, and something to overcome boredom. Don’t forget that 72 hour kits are just the beginning. It will be far longer before life returns to normal.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Four Stories of Survival

“One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.” Arnold H. Glasgow

Over the past year Popular Mechanics has been a great source for disaster preparedness stories. For example, 4 People Who Faced Disaster—And How They Made it Out Alive. The article is worth reading in depth – I’ll summerize it here.

Prepare for the Worst:

a former Hewlett-Packard engineer saves his house from a California fire. “The last thing I want from my story is for people to risk their lives,” Vaplon says. “But I’d thought about protecting my home, and I felt comfortable with my decision to stay.” He was well prepared.

Keep Cool in a Crisis:

In a disaster, 10% of the people panic and 80% do nothing. But when a tornado in Iowa hit a shelter with 65 Boy Scouts, the Scout Leader went into autopilot rescue mode. “I don’t know how to describe it,” he says. “It was like my brain went away, and I went to a very businesslike place.” Though injured himself, he directed the able-bodied Scouts to take care of the injured, applying pressure to wounds, turning T-shirts into bandages and elevating the legs of those who were in shock. His leadership saved many lives.

Hang in There:

An overnight sky-watching trip in Washington state, becomes a nightmare when an unexpected autumn snowstorm leaves Daryl Jané stuck for 14 days until he was found by a local snowmobile club. John Leach, a survival psychologist says, “people in his situation die all the time, but they don’t have to ... He didn’t have food, but that’s not a problem for two weeks—you can live without it. (Jané lost 10 pounds.) Fluid is the issue, but he found water.” Don’t give up.

Outlast the Aftermath:

When Hurricane Ike hit Texas last year, 48 people died. But, according to the National Hurricane Center, as many as 64 post-storm deaths occurred in Texas because of factors like carbon monoxide poisoning and electrocution. The first weekend after Ike, some 37,000 Texans were holed up in shelters that ran short of food and water within 24 hours. The next few weeks brought countless scores of injuries from clearing debris. Lesson learned? Work with your neighbors and know how to safely live in a disaster area.

Bottom Line

Popular Mechanics correctly identifies four key principals to survival:

1. Be prepared in advance with supplies, equipment and skills
2. Keep calm. This comes from practice and a knowledge that you are prepared.
3. Make a plan to survive and don’t give up.
4. Be prepared for a long haul. The aftermath can be worse than the disaster event.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Household Incomes

“A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” - Jane Austen

I love charts and graphs. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is never truer than with a well-designed graphic. The right image can condense hundreds of numbers into something that makes sense.

The most recent interactive graphic to catch my eye is USA Today’s chart of US Household income from the latest Census Bureau data.
There are actually two charts embedded in the web page. Look for the click bar below the title “Changes in household income” to change the chart.

The first display, “Household income change from 2005-06 to 2007-08” shows the different effects of the recession on states. Average income in nearly half of the states (22) went down in the past two years. This chart has some clear winners and losers. Recession proof states with a 5% or greater boost in income include Alaska, North Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Alabama and Washington D.C. The biggest losers with a 5% or greater drop include Tennessee, Georgia, New Jersey, and Vermont. I’m puzzled by the results for neighboring states Vermont (-10.3%) and New Hampshire (+5.7%). Why such a great difference?

The second display, “Household income 2007-2008” also has a few exceptional states. The northern Atlantic coast made the big bucks with New Hampshire (#1), Maryland, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts topping the list. Also placing high are Alaska, Hawaii, and Colorado. The West Coast states earn above average as does the Rust Belt region. At the bottom of the list is Mississippi with neighboring southern states not far behind.

Bottom Line

After looking at both charts, three states stand out. Alaska, New Hampshire and Colorado are leaders in average income and the income level is rising >5% despite the recession. My wife & I sometimes wonder where we’d like to retire. I’ll have to add Colorado to my list of candidates as a state that is doing something right (at least economically). Sorry AK and NH, you’re great states but have too much snow for me to retire at.

I should mention that some states are difficult to examine in charts like these. Big states like New York, California, Michigan, and others have huge urban cities but also large regions of farms, woods, and mountains. Life is very different in Detroit vs. the Upper Peninsula, New York City vs. the Adirondacks. The highs and lows get averaged out in these states. So income in the New York City metropolitan area may have declined sharply but the upstate region is holding its own so the average decline for all of NY is “only” –2.2%.

Interestingly the story gets more complex when I look at income data from 1999 to 2005 at It appears that while the “economy” and stock market did well in the early 2000’s, this did not trickle down to the income of most households. The National average declined 2.8% during this period. Alaska (-7.2%) and Colorado (-10.6%) both dropped. New Hampshire however did well with +5.6%. Why is the money flowing there? Hawaii and North Dakota also improved so their income climb has lasted at least a decade.


I decided to find out what makes New Hampshire special. Why is income rising there? Wikipedia suggests an answer: The state has no general sales tax, no personal state income tax (except for dividends and interest) and the legislature has exercised fiscal restraint. While the lack of a state-wide tax system has resulted in some local communities having the nation's highest property taxes, overall New Hampshire is ranked 49th among states in combined state and local tax burden.

In contrast, next door neighbor Vermont was ranked 32nd among states in which to do business in 2007. In 2008, an economist said that the state had "a really stagnant economy, which is what we are forecasting for Vermont for the next 30 years." The state has the lowest gross state product in the nation (meaning it is the least productive). Why?

In 2007 Vermont was 14th highest out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for combined state and local taxation. CNNMoney ranks Vermont the highest tax burden in the nation based on a percentage of per capita income, i.e. Vermont takes the biggest percentage bite out of people's paychecks.

Clearly, high taxes are bad for states.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009


“The first requisite of a good citizen in this republic of ours is that he shall be able and willing to pull his own weight.” – President Theodore Roosevelt

I thought my notes for a Webelos Den Meeting would make a great blog post...

Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities. Social contract implies that people give up some freedoms to a government in order to maintain social order through the rule of law. We usually associate Thomas Hobbes (1651), John Locke (1689) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1762) with the modern theory of Social Contract. But the idea was documented in the East (India) in the Mahabharata around 800 BC:

It hath been heard by us that men, in days of old, in consequence of anarchy, met with destruction, devouring one another like stronger fishes devouring the weaker ones in the water. It hath been heard by us that a few amongst them then, assembling together, made certain compacts, saying, "He who becomes harsh in speech, or violent in temper, he who seduces or abducts other people’s wives or robs the wealth that belongs to others, should be cast off by us."

To be a member of society is to accept responsibility for following its rules, along with the threat of punishment for violating them.

In the US, people love to focus upon their Rights and often forget about the rules and responsibilities and duties of citizenship.
Ø paying taxes
Ø serving on a jury
Ø voting
Ø serving in the country's armed forces when called upon
Ø obeying the criminal laws

In ancient Greece, to be truly human, one had to be an active citizen to the community. Aristotle famously expressed: “To take no part in the running of the community's affairs is to be either a beast or a god!” Today Americans want to “take” from the government and forget to "give". As “Active Citizens” we should work towards the betterment of the community through:

Ø economic participation
Ø public service
Ø volunteer work
Ø attending school and becoming educated
Ø recycling
Ø other efforts to improve life for all citizens

Social contracts are formed for the betterment of the governed (not for the benefit of the government or King.) The US Declaration of Independence cites social contract theory:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Despite the high-minded philosophy and theory behind US Independence, eleven years later (1787) when the US Constitution was approved, it listed no Rights for the people. Many States disapproved and the Constitution was ratified only after the addition of the Ten Amendments, our Bill of Rights. These rights include:

Ø (1) freedom to exercise our religion
Ø (1) freedom of speech or of the press
Ø (1) the right of peaceable assembly
Ø (1) the right to petition the Government
Ø (2) right of the People to keep and bear Arms
Ø (3) the right not to be forced to house soldiers
Ø (4) freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. Legal Warrants are required.
Ø (5) Rights before the Law like due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination
Ø (5) eminent domain: private property shall not be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Ø (6) Our rights in Court: Trial by jury, rights of the accused, Confrontation Clause, speedy trial, public trial, right to counsel
Ø (7) A right to a trial by jury of our peers
Ø (8) Protection against excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.

Bottom Line

There are three ways to become a US Citizen.

  1. Be born in the US (even if your parents are not citizens)
  2. Apply for Citizenship and pass the INS Citizenship Test
  3. Be awarded Honorary Citizenship by the US Congress. Do you know the six people so honored?
    1 General Lafayette
    2 Winston Churchill,
    3 Raoul Wallenberg
    4 & 5 William Penn & his wife Hannah Callowhill Penn
    6 Mother Teresa

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